It is easy to forget that Mat Latos is still just 24-years-old. It is also easy, apparently, to overlook how impressive he has been since the second half of June.
Latos started off his tenure in Cincinnati pretty miserably, with a 5.20 ERA in 14 starts. He was getting hit rather hard, and his home run rate escalated. He allowed 16 homers in less than a half season’s worth of starts. The jump was expected, since moving from homer-depressing Petco Park to Great American Ballpark would likely cause any pitcher to give up more home runs. But I imagine there were at least a few people who wondered if Latos was simply a Petco creation.
Since June 18, Latos has done everything to shed that image. In his past 17 starts, Latos has a 2.52 ERA and just eight home runs allowed. Not surprisingly, the Reds went 13-4 in those starts. In those games, Latos pitched fewer than five full innings just once — compared to the three times he missed the five-inning mark in his previous 14 outings. Obviously, something changed.
Most notably, he’s come as close as a pitcher can to ditching his changeup. He’s thrown the pitch about 2% of the time since the beginning of July. Interestingly, rather than going to a secondary pitch, he replaced the change with his fourseam fastball. And that seems to be a strategy he is running with. His fourseamer has seen its frequency increase from 29% to 41% to 46% in June, July and August. He also has moved away from his two-seamer. He now is going with a more traditional power approach with his four seamer as his primary weapon; his two-seamer was thrown just 10 times all of August.
In replacing the changeup against lefties, he’s made his curveball his second-most relied upon option. With hitters hitting just .188 against his curveball this year, and .400 against the changeup, ditching the change and increasing the hook was the right call. The Reds’ staff deserves credit for noticing his changeup issues and making the necessary midseason adjustment.
Essentially, Latos and his coaches simplified his repertoire. And now, both he and the Reds have reaped the benefits of Latos essentially becoming a three-pitch pitcher. For his career, he’s been a fastball-slider pitcher, with his two-seamer, changeup and curveball all thrown at about 10% frequency. Now that he’s altered his repertoire and sequencing in Cincinnati, the Reds have one of the more formidable one-two punches in baseball with Latos and Johnny Cueto.
While we will certainly monitor Latos for the remainder of the season, I’m especially interested to see how he attacks hitters next year. Yu Darvish and Roy Halladay are discussed for having a plethora of pitches from which to choose, but to have a starter like Latos succeed because he stopped throwing his lower quality pitches is something wholly different. Sometimes, simplicity can lead to more success than complexity. And perhaps this is one of those times.